Assessing a disfiguring injury after an unexpected brawl . . .
Buck’s head kept him from five days of summer encampment. He studied the still raw, jagged skin at his temple in the mirror before dressing to leave the infirmary. The doctor said the hand of God saved him from losing an eye, but Buck felt condemned.
Most cadets sat at chapel as Buck made his way down the tidy company streets, hoping things might go back to the way they were before Streeter, but the last steps toward his tent were heavy with apprehension and dread. Church bells rang the hour and ended the various services in and around the academy as Buck lay back on his bed, wondering how he might make things right. A messenger arrived. “Cadet Crenshaw, visitors to see you, sir. Your parents.”
Buck jumped from bed, ignoring the cadets who turned away from him as he passed. His mother Margaret’s bold, canary-colored hat fluttered in the distance and Buck, shedding his natural reserve, ran towards them. Doctor Graham Crenshaw stood with hands in pockets until Buck was nearly upon him then trotted two or three steps in his heavy body. “My God, Buck! Your face!” he cried.
Buck almost bolted at the sight of his father wiping a tear away.
Margaret sobbed, “Your poor, beautiful face! Destroyed! I want the names of the boys who did this to you!” she demanded, yanking Buck’s arm. “You are too soft like your father to make it here. Come home with us until you’re healed at least!”
“I’m not soft, Mama,” Buck grumbled.
Graham’s chin quivered as he traced the edges of Buck’s open sore. Buck pulled back, wincing.
“Father, I . . .” Buck could say no more.
“We’ve gotten permission to take you out for a ride,” Graham said and led them to the Crenshaw Friesian horses.
Buck longed to be embraced but couldn’t bring himself to initiate it. He climbed up into the luxurious surrey.
“Buck, tell us all about your troubles. Why would you fight?” Margaret asked. “You never fight. Our girls fight more than you, even. Fred always stood up for you and . . .”
“Margaret, Buck is as brave as they come and I’m damned proud, though a little surprised that he’d take on such a battle without Fred,” Graham said as he helped his wife into the carriage. “I’m glad to see you out from Fred’s shadow, son.”
“I haven’t taken on any battle, Father. The battle has come to me and I don’t want it!” his voice faltered. “I’m frightened that . . .”
It wasn’t the beating, it was being apart from the others and Fred. Buck covered his face, failing to hold back bitter tears.
“Oh, dear, Graham, make him stop! I hate this place!” Margaret cried, roughly moving Buck’s hands away to wipe his face, but he stopped her.
“Mama, I must stay. I love it here,” Buck explained. “The trouble’s all that colored cadet! I wasn’t as harsh as I should have been, maybe. I was doing a fine job with the new cadets, but—everyone is turned against me!”
“Not everyone, I’m sure, son,” Graham said. “Don’t let a few roughs convince you the world is out for your scalp. You’re a very impressive young man.”
“My best friends, Father, don’t know me anymore—that’s the worst of it!”
“Then they aren’t real friends, Buck,” Margaret said as she mopped his head in disgust. “Don’t fret; Fred will come back and make things right. Maybe it would be best to stay away from the colored cadet till then.”
“Margaret! We’ve taught our boys better, I hope, than to judge a man on color,” Graham said with deep pride. “Buck has taken a stand against it, and I support him.”
“No, I haven’t done anything, Father!”
“Your modesty in the face of adversity makes me that much more proud of you, son. I knew you were different from Fred.”
“I’m not any bit different from Fred. Streeter has ruined my life!”
Margaret tried to sooth him. “Son, I know you’re upset about your face, dear, but lots of girls like scars—the more hideous the better—and we’ll always care for you.”
Buck turned to Graham. “Is it truly hideous, Father?”
Buck recognized his father’s physician face. “Well, when it heals it won’t be so bad. Now the other cadets will have a chance at the hops. You were too darn handsome, anyhow,” Graham joked, but his eyes welled up and he turned them towards the road. “Are you really sure you want to stay, Buck? There’s no shame in coming home.”
Buck imagined his room at home and his younger siblings, but shook his head. “No, Father, all I want to do is graduate from West Point and I intend to do it.”
Graham pat his shoulder–twice. “Be careful, son, and remember—you’re the light of the world—like a city on a mountain—I’m proud that you’re not hiding that anymore.”
Margaret and Buck stared. Margaret leaned in towards Buck with a loud whisper, “Your father has taken up memorizing Bible verses with your sister Thankful as yet another annoying hobby to separate us.”
Buck looked at Graham.
“Thankful is a sweet girl—I do it to please her,” Graham said with a sigh.
Buck had been pleased over a pat on the shoulder when Father was spending hours learning silly verse to impress his sister! Buck demanded they drop him before the entrance. He withheld his hand and barely said goodbye.
“That boy has no manners,” Margaret said as Graham snapped the reins.
Buck watched after them as they trotted off; his father bewildered at their son’s contemptuous dismissal of them after a long drive. How could Graham think Buck was a humanitarian?
Buck wanted no cause but his own. He tried to imagine himself making a stand for equality, but came to his senses. It wasn’t his fight. Streeter understood that himself. As Buck walked to his tent, he spotted Streeter being sent with another plebe on some useless errand. It gave him time to gather his thoughts before his roommate returned. Buck sat upon his bed and noticed a new grammar book tucked in among his things. Just as he pulled it out, Streeter returned. “Sir!”
“I see you’ve found the book.” Streeter held out a cigar.
“You must be joking, Streeter. I won’t take a thing from you. I don’t know what you’ll tell the others.”
Streeter put the cigar on Buck’s little table. “Sir, I tried to warn you this might happen if it seemed we were friends.”
“I never thought we were friends,” Buck replied, resting his head on his pillow. “Listen, Streeter, I believe in rights and all. Really, I do. I had no prejudice against you in the beginning.”
“And now, sir?”
“Now, well, I think you’re a fool. Telling the others I helped you—it puts us both in a bind and more importantly, it’s a lie.”
“I never said that you helped me. Not once, sir. It’s all rumors. I like you, though, and you’ve given me encouragement. I thought that all cadets were the same, but you stood against those roughs and you’ve treated me decently. Although it’s in our best interest not to be friends, I know that under different circumstances we would be. I don’t ask for or want you to fight my battles, but I feel you would if you could.”
Buck had nothing to say. He wasn’t so sure he should stand up for a colored cadet. He had no reason to believe he would.
Cadet Whittaker entered the tent. “Buck, how are you?”
Buck glared at him.
Whittaker toppled Streeter’s water bucket. “Streeter, looks like you need more water. Go fetch it.”
Whittaker turned to his friend. “Buck, I’m happy to see you’re sticking it out.”
“I’m glad I make you so damned happy,” Buck replied. He dreaded leaving the tent.
“Come on, Buck, don’t be huffed at me. I’ve done nothing wrong.”
“You’ve done nothing. I’m not impressed,” Buck said.
“Oh, so now that you’re on a mission, we all must be?”
“My mission is to graduate an officer. There’s no other mission for me,” Buck said, adjusting his pillow.
“Buck, I want you to know that I think it very admirable . . .”
“No! Stop it!” Buck yelled. “Tomorrow I’m back with my class, with you . . .”
Whittaker took a slight step back. “Yes, well, you know that this is a personal visit—no need to tell anyone.”
“Yes, I fully understand you,” Buck said, staring up at the tent canvas.
PART ONE HERE
PART TWO HERE
PART THREE HERE
PART FOUR HERE
PART FIVE HERE
Excerpted from WEARY OF RUNNING. Read more about Buck Crenshaw and his misadventures when you buy the book today!